Councillors to decide whether to give green light to fracking scheme


Councillors will decide today whether to allow the first fracking operation in the UK for five years.

More protests are expected in Northallerton as a decision is made on an application by UK firm Third Energy to frack for shale gas at its existing drilling site near the village of Kirby Misperton, between Malton and Pickering, North Yorkshire.

Planners have recommended the plan is approved but, on Friday, councillors on the county council's planning committee listened as speaker after speaker outlined environmental concerns over the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique, ranging from global level climate change to the proximity of ponds, bees and bats to the proposed drilling rig.

The committee was greeted by hundreds of anti-fracking protesters as they arrived at County Hall, in Northallerton, before spending a day listening to dozens of objections to the scheme.

Around 300 protesters, many wearing Yorkshire white roses, created a festival-like atmosphere outside with music and stalls.

Introducing the meeting on Friday, committee chairman Peter Sowray said: "This is by far the most controversial application we have ever had to deal with."

Mr Sowray said it was not the committee's function to determine national fracking policy and he told the packed hall: "I am sure all members have come along with an open mind and are ready to listen to the facts."

On Monday, the committee will hear more objections before speakers supporting Third Energy take to the floor.

The Government has said it is going "all out for shale" to boost energy security and the economy.

But opponents fear fracking - in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release gas - can cause problems including water contamination, earthquakes and noise and traffic pollution.

Environmentalists also warn that pursuing new sources of gas - a fossil fuel - is not compatible with efforts to tackle climate change.

No fracking has taken place in the UK since 2011, when tests on the Fylde coast were found to have been the probable cause of minor earthquakes in the area.

Since then, two high-profile applications to frack in Lancashire have been rejected by councillors and are now the subject of appeals.

Third Energy wants to frack for shale gas using an existing two-mile deep well - called KM8 - drilled in 2013.

Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, stressed that the well site has been operational for decades for non-fracking extraction.

He said: "Third Energy has been drilling wells, producing gas and generating electricity safely and discreetly in North Yorkshire for over 20 years and we will continue to maintain the same responsible approach in the future."

The planning officers' report, which recommended that the application is approved, said planners came to this decision despite acknowledging that many of the 4,000 representations it had received in consultation were objections to the plans.

The report said: "It should also be noted that there is national policy support for the development of a shale gas industry in this country and this is an important material consideration."